The Riverside-InwoodNeighborhoodGarden (RING)
Original Site: 1815 Riverside Drive, Manhattan 1984-1987
The RING Garden began as a fleeting thought by Maggie Clarke on the occasion of a community meeting set up by Assemblyman Brian Murtaugh in late 1983 at the Episcopal Church located at Cumming and Seaman Avenues.
A six-story building at1815 Riverside Drive, similar to the others on the Drive, had been sinking differentially for years due to varying thicknesses of peat soil and lack of modern foundation to the bedrock. The failure of the landlord, Gabor, to secure funding to add four more floors to this unstable structure and turn it into a co-op, resulted in the City demolishing the building.
Assemblyman Murtuagh’s purpose in arranging the meeting was to get some feedback on out what the neighborhood envisioned what the newly empty, rubble-strewn lot at1815 Riverside Drivecould become. His concern was that it not become a dumping ground for cars and the like.
Maggie suggested that the empty lot be made into a flower garden which was an idea that appealed to a few others. The Assemblyman gathered those in agreement and appointed Maggie and Susan Pond as co-chairs.
During 1984, we asked the Inwood-Heights Parks Alliance to be our fiscal conduit, and we started affiliations with the Green Guerrillas, (who donated bulbs, large boxes of soil), the NY Horticultural Society (who provided us shovels and hoses), and began a search for large quantities of fill. The lot was large – 100 feet onRiverside Driveand 175 feet onPayson Avenue.
The planting process began in a few of the 17 large boxes of soil we had acquired during the spring. Marigolds from seeds left the year before blossomed in the boxes; we planted Gladiolas and Morning Glories in 3 containers – and before you knew, we had a garden.
We enlisted members and started collecting donations to assist with the expenses of the garden. We planted bulbs in the fall, which Maggie had sent from her trip to Holland. In December, 1984 Maggie located a firm, Corrino and Civetta, who agreed to bring 38 large dump trucks of fill from the Henry Hudson in theBronx, and smooth it around the lot with a front-end loader. It ended up being about a foot deep. Assemblyman Murtaugh secured a year-to-year lease from the landlord during this time period.
During the winter of 1984, all who had attended the 1983 meeting plus those who had volunteered or donated to the garden in 1984, were invited to vote on whether the garden should be operated as a typical “plots and veggies” community garden, or as a flowers and ornamentals botanical garden. The latter was chosen, and in 1985 RING volunteers and Andy Woods, with his science classes from Our Lady Queen ofMartyrsSchoollocated onArden Street, turned the lot into a garden. This involved designing the layout, salvaging bricks, hauling railroad ties up from the then unused west side rail line to hold in soil, creating a lawn with a schist rock border, and purchasing plants (or finding donated ones). See 1815 RSDGarden Photos.
From 1985 to 1987, the garden expanded and almost covered the large space. The former empty, rubble-strewn lot won the Mollie Parnis Dress Up your Neighborhood Awards (citywide contests) in 1985 and 1987, and awards on its flowers in contests sponsored by the New York Horticultural Society. Just as the garden blossomed so did its membership and volunteers allowing us to build a shed and acquire many tools.
But in late 1987 our luck ran out. The landlord decided to evict RING since he wanted to sell the property “unencumbered”. RING was not about to go down without a fight. We had a rally at which three of our elected representatives and other neighborhood leaders spoke, and presented plans for moving to the Triangle, but alas to no avail.
The NYC Parks Dept. agreed to take 3 truckloads of RING’s plants to two sites – at Inwood park and at the Van Cortlandt nursery. So on a snowy November 21st, RING volunteers moved the last of the plants that we were going to save onto Parks trucks.